Things menstruating girls face in rural U’khand

Restricted to a corner, forced to carry garlic to ‘ward off ghosts’:Things menstruating girls face in rural U’khand Dehradun: From being restricted to a corner of their household to be required to carry garlic buds with them while venturing out to “ward off ghosts” during “those days”, menstruating girls in parts of Uttarakhand continue to be subjected to strange rituals. What makes the matter worse is poor awareness about using sanitary napkins in some parts of rural Uttarakhand, a recent study on sanitary hygiene by a Dehradun-based organization has revealed. Volunteers of Wings of Hope-The Helping Hand Society visited over 23 villages in three districts of the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand – Dehradun, Haridwar and Uttarkashi – between November last year and April this year as a part of their project ‘Charity Pad'. Interacting with school going girls from classes 6-12, the volunteers found that many of them were still using cloth, cotton or sheets of newspapers during their menstrual cycle. The findings were made public during a seminar in the state capital on Saturday. “Many of them told us that they were asked to follow certain traditions which required them to stick to a particular corner of their house or prohibited them from entering temples or kitchens and during their periods. In one of the villages, girls shared how they were made to have food in separate utensils which were ‘purified’ by burning paper on them every time they were served food during menstruation,” the society’s co-founder Vishakha Dhodi told HT on the sidelines of the seminar. State women commission member-secretary Ramindri Mandarwal exhorted participants to shun such “outdated” rituals and traditions. “I’ve seen many educated women and girls following the norms, thanks to the rigorous pre-conditioning they’ve been subjected to all along since teenage. It’s high time we changed the mindset with ourselves,” she said at the seminar. The society under its project ‘Charity Pad’ also provided sanitary pads to 360 school girls in Kalsi and Sahiya in Dehradun district, which it plans to extend to 880 girls during 2017-18. “With sustained usage of sanitary pads, we observed that not only girls’ attendance went up (girls were losing up to 50 days of school in a year due to menstruation), but also their participation increased in sports activities,” Tarun Negi, Founder of the society, said. According to the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16), as many as 35% of women aged 15-24 years in rural areas of Uttarakhand do not use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual period. “There’s a need to spread awareness among young girls and teenagers about using sanitary napkins, maintaining menstrual hygiene and educating them about their reproductive health both in public as well as government schools,” women rights’ activist Geeta Balodi said while addressing the seminar. When contacted, Rekha Arya, Uttarakhand minister of state (independent charge) for women empowerment and child development, told HT that she would push for “availability of sanitary napkins and awareness about menstrual hygiene” among girls by seeking funds from her government. “I have also written to (Union finance minister Arun) Jaitley ji for exempting sanitary napkins from the ambit of the GST (Goods and Services Tax). We will try to make subsidized or free napkins available to girls especially in rural areas,” she told HT More Power and support to WOHTHH team members

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